In June 2013, the paparazzi captured photos of Saatchi with his hands around Lawson’s throat at a restaurant. When Lawson refused to press charges, Saatchi was “cautioned” by the police, which is a formal warning in the UK. Soon after, Saatchi announced he was divorcing based on unreasonable behavior (or “behaviour” in the UK); however, it was Lawson who actually filed on these grounds.
Here in California, we have only two grounds for divorce, incurable insanity and irreconcilable differences. (Family Code §2310). This means California is a “no fault” state because all one has to do is make it clear that there is no possibility of reconciliation in order to obtain a divorce. (Family Code §§2311 and 2333). In fact, under Family Code §2335, spouses may not provide specific acts of misconduct to prove irreconcilable differences. Unlike many other states, California does not require that the parties live apart for a certain period of time, but does have a residency requirement of six months. (Family Code §2320(a)).
Divorce law in the UK is similar to the law in a majority of the United States, where both fault and no fault are options. The grounds for divorce in the UK are: adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion of more than two years, living apart for two years and both agree to divorce, or living apart for five years and one spouse disagrees with the divorce decision. With such a long wait for a no fault divorce, Lawson’s choice of the unreasonable behavior grounds makes sense.
In the U.S., according to Family Law Quarterly (Vol. 46, No. 4, Winter 2013), only sixteen states and Washington, D.C. have an exclusively no fault divorce system, which means the majority of states are working with two systems. States with fault and no fault grounds often have a two part judgment because of how long a “no fault” divorce can take. In these states, parties may receive a judgment that addresses certain issues prior to their final judgment.
The UK utilizes this two part judgment system. This means that as of July 31, 2013, just three weeks after Lawson filed for divorce, they received a judgment nisi. A judgment nisi is an interlocutory judgment that becomes final after a certain time period. For Lawson and Saatchi, their divorce may have been sped up by a prenuptial agreement they are rumored to have had. In addition, Lawson probably kept the abuse claims out of her unreasonable behavior allegations so that Saatchi would be able to agree to the divorce instead of fighting it.
About the authors:
Sarah Van Voorhis, a Certified Family Law Specialist, and Ariel Sosna are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna.